Look: It’s like this. One of the finest rock bands going right now comes from Ames, Iowa in the US of A. They’re called the Poison Control Center and they will make you believe in all that is good about rock’n'roll again. End of discussion.
The first time I heard The Poison Control Center it was under adverse conditions. It was for a show I had set up for them based on the unimpeachable recommendations of a friend. My background-checking on them was cursory at best, I had spent at least an hour trying to find a link to listen to their music that wasn’t MySpace. I failed. Have you tried searching for “Poison Control Center”? Yeah, the results are probably ordered correctly, but not what I was looking for. (Incidentally, this.) Back to that show, put simply I was “in a mood”, “fit to be tied” as they say, I was not in a mindset of wonder and jubilation. I was more of a swirling cauldron of bile and rage in search of a target.
And here come these earnest young gentlemen with a quick and kind Midwest greeting. I was ready to dismiss them with the gentle folds of the shroud of cynicism firmly tightened around me. Then, like a damned lightning strike, from the first note there emitted a jarring barrage of splits, shoulder rolls, and furious rock’n'roll intensity that blew me away. And I am a hard man to impress. I was smiling and bouncing like a stupefied and jubilant child, my troubles and anger forgotten. Almost immediately after their show I found myself humming some of their songs.
Where the hell did these guys come from? How come nobody told me about them before? What the hell?!?! WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE?!?!?
Almost in awe, I quickly befriended the band, and we even offered them some place to stay. Securing themselves in the halls of “the nicest guests ever” annals, they gave me a copy of their double album Sad Sour Future… and a follow-up postcard thanking us for the hospitality some months later, a class move on every level, those gentlemen.
Back to the record. Initially, I was passively into it. “Oh cool, I get it … these guys like Pavement and Guided by Voices and are into ELO and such, charming. ‘Indie rock’, yeah I get it.” I filed them quite firmly in the “excellent live band, OK record” category. I feel shame sometimes at how quickly I can do that, but it’s just the way I am.
As time went on, the songs revealed themselves to me, and then something clicked. See: even though live they are a hell-ass rock band, the Poison Control Center makes records that are POP records, once I understood that I understood “what they do” much better.
It’s an interesting move, and one that doesn’t treat vocals that waver, even in certainty, always well. But they do it with a panache that most could never accomplish. Quite simply, when The Poison Control Center put it out there, you almost have to believe it. This is Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival. This is The Who, live at Leeds. This is Nirvana when they were truly dialed in. But they aren’t JUST a band with an incendiary live show. They make compelling, personal heartfelt records. Records like this year’s Stranger Ballet, which as close of a starting point as I could recommend.
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